The Mets have intensified their pursuit of free-agent outfielder Jason Bay, letting the 31-year-old know they'd be willing to commit a fifth year to him, while maintaining contact with Matt Holliday, as well.

But with Holliday and the Cardinals engaged in serious negotiations, the Mets appeared far more likely to land Bay, whom they profess to regard as a superior investment to Holliday, anyway. Mets general manager Omar Minaya was said by friends to be increasingly determined to add the outfield slugging that Bay would provide.

The Mets' initial offer to Bay came in at four years, and about $65 million, and it wasn't clear how many total dollars they'd be willing to commit in a five-year agreement. SI.com's Jon Heyman reported that the Mets "tweaked" their initial offer so that there was a lower base salary, but with more years, for a total of about $75 million.

The Red Sox, Bay's former employer, appear to have severed ties with Bay after signing free agent Mike Cameron to play leftfield. The Mariners, who have emphasized defense under second-year general manager Jack Zduriencik, don't appear to view Bay as a priority.

The Angels and Giants are teams that figure to be looking for corner outfield help, yet it's unclear whether either club would commit five years to Bay.

Minaya and his assistant GM, John Ricco, spent the bulk of the day dealing with a grievance hearing involving Yorvit Torrealba, the free-agent catcher who wants compensation from the Mets when - citing a failed physical - they backed out of an agreement two years ago. Bay's agent, Joe Urbon, told Newsday he attended the Phillies' news conference to introduce new pitcher Roy Halladay, another client of Urbon's firm CAA.

Despite these distractions, however, the negotiations seemed to advance.

The Mets have been in regular contact with Scott Boras, Holliday's agent, to discuss their interest in Holliday. Yet the Cardinals are the clear favorites to re-sign Holliday, as St. Louis' offer is believed to be for as long as eight years and for more than $100 million.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The Orioles and Giants also have held discussions with Boras about Holliday, and Baltimore also wants to sign free agent Garrett Atkins, a good friend of Holliday's from their time together with the Rockies. Nevertheless, both of those teams appear to be long shots in the Holliday sweepstakes.

As Newsday first reported on Oct. 18, Holliday has reservations about playing his home games in the pitcher-friendly dimensions of Citi Field. Nevertheless, the idea of playing in a big market appealed to Holliday, and the Yankees haven't created the budget room to sign Holliday.

While the Mets have other needs in the starting rotation, first base and catcher, outfield has become their greatest area of focus, because of the dollars involved and their own belief that Bay could be their big catch of the offseason.